14 Months in Asia: ‘A Trip is Worth More Than a Thousand Books’

As most of us at Champlain College are getting ready to head back to campus for our spring semester, junior International Business major, Julian Lopez, is continuing his fourteen month adventure studying in Asia.

My first six months in Shanghai have flown by, and I’m sure that it will be no different for the eight more that I have left. I planned this trip more than two years ago, but I didn’t know how plausible it would be for me to study abroad for a full year in China. I came to China with the intention of understanding the culture, learning from its people, improving my fluency in Mandarin, and continuing my overall education. Throughout the time that I’ve spent in this global city, my goals have not drifted; they’ve only expanded.


Walking on the Great Wall while enjoying the scenery.

Let me rewind back to the summer of 2015 when I decided to apply for the Freeman Foundation Grant. The grant is provided to the Robert P. Stiller School of Business at Champlain College by the Freeman Foundation and allows the college to send more than a dozen students to China to work in a summer internship. I was awarded an internship, and as a result, I was able to work in a startup and make a lot of contacts, which could end up being beneficial to me in the future. After my summer in Shanghai and my internship ended, I traveled around China for over a month. I decided that as a part of my education and immersion into Chinese culture, I had to learn what China’s neighbors were like and study their culture.

Throughout that time,  I went to Korea and Japan for a couple of weeks. After that, I returned to China and visited some of the most famous cities in the country: Beijing, Xi’an, Chengdu, and Guilin. This gave me a bigger understanding of what China is like and the big contrast between the rest of the country and Shanghai. In particular, I noticed the big economic disparity between the Eastern and Western parts of this huge country. Now I hope to find a way to take advantage of the Free Trade Zone that the Chinese government established in Shanghai in 2013. I have many ideas about this Zone and of the socio-economic wealth gap within the country, but I cannot disclose these ideas through this blog post.

The beautiful scenery that can be seen at Xingping which is close to Guilin.

The beautiful scenery that can be seen at Xingping which is close to Guilin.

During my first semester abroad at Shanghai University of International Business and Economics (SUIBE), I learned so much. I took classes which taught me the legal and managerial aspect of starting your own business in China, while also improving my Mandarin through intermediate-level language courses. I established connections with people from around the world that I feel are as globally minded and motivated as I am. As part of my courses, I also received a certificate in excellence from the Shanghai Collegiate Internship Centre for International Business (上海高校国际高务实习中心) that proves I have the working knowledge to participate in the import/export business in China. Last but not least, I took advantage of amazing opportunities, like being flown to Chengdu by a travel agency for Chinese tourism promotions—I participated in a couple of commercials and learned Sichuan cuisine as a “cultural ambassador.” China Daily, the most read English language newspaper written about China, even published an article all about my cooking experience! Throughout this entire semester, I was also able to travel to many places in China, such as Henan Province, Suzhou and Nanjing. All of these trips have provided me with more information about the Chinese culture than I could’ve gotten from reading a thousand books.

Another photo at Xingping in which I'm wearing a hat that the locals wear.

Another photo at Xingping in which I’m wearing a hat that the locals wear.

Additionally, I realized a few things about Chinese culture and how that influences international business in China. Shanghai is a globalized city that houses citizens from all around the globe. This makes meeting a thousand people from around the world a simple task, but making a meaningful connection with a powerful person in China could take a lifetime. If you want to do business in China, the Chinese nationals will tell you, “it’s all about the Guanxi (关系).” ‘Guanxi’ is more than just making an acquaintance or getting to know the basic story of people’s lives; it’s about creating a relationship of trust that lasts a lifetime. This is what it takes to find a business partner in China, and it is the hardest task you will ever face. There is no secret key to forming strong ‘Guanxi’ with someone, although getting to know the Chinese culture is a good formula for success. In order to understand the culture, I’ve been doing everything possible to think like a Chinese national, such as eating their food; talking to their people; reading the books they read when they were young; and trying to understand their trends, government and way of thinking.

At the commercial shooting that I did for a tourism company in Chengdu.

At the commercial shooting that I did for a tourism company in Chengdu.

Now that my first semester has come to a close, I am continuing my journey by visiting China’s Southern neighbors: Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Cambodia. This two-month trip will help me understand the perception that China’s neighbors have of this economic superpower, and it will also prove to be helpful in my search for new business opportunities in the Asian market. At the end of my trip, I will continue my second semester abroad in Shanghai at Fudan University, which is the fourth best university in all of China. I still have two more cities to visit in 2016 during my time at Fudan University: Hong Kong and Macau. I am very excited to continue my journey in the pursuit for knowledge, business opportunities and ‘Guanxi’.

Julian Geoffrey Lopez, ‘17 is an International Business and Finance double major in the Robert P. Stiller School of Business. Read more about Julian’s travels in Shanghai in his Freeman Shanghai 2015 blog.